by Ernest Freeland
Creating a bicycle maintenance schedule and following it for your bicycle is a simple way to ensure you have miles and miles of hassle free riding enjoyment. Regular and preventive maintenance will increase the life of your bicycle and its components. Bicycle maintenance shouldn’t be a scary thing. As you learn to maintain your bicycle you’ll gain confidence in your skills. Certain areas of maintenance may bring you greater enjoyment then others.
The key to success with bicycle maintenance is to get into a routine. With your routine you’ll ensure that everything that needs to be inspected and worked on is done on a regular basis or schedule. There are things that should be done prior to every ride. Then there are maintenance items that should be done monthly, ever six months and annually. Please visit our Bicycle Maintenance Chart which is a great reference, print it out and post it near your work space. What follows is a little more in depth coverage of what the Bicycle Maintenance Chart covers.
A skill that any home bicycle mechanic can master is that of cleaning a bicycle. Keeping a clean bicycle just makes your bicycle more fun to ride. One of the important things about your cleaning routine is that this is the perfect time to be looking for needed areas of maintenance. During cleaning you should inspect all of the bicycle components and frame for potential problems. As with all service much of it will depend on how often you ride, how long you ride and in what conditions you ride in. Depending on all of these factors you may clean your bike after every ride, weekly or monthly. For more information on the proper way to clean your bicycle visit this article.
Prior to Every Ride:
For items that should be done prior to every ride please read the ABC’s of Bicycle Maintenance. This entry covers the basic maintenance and inspection following the ABC’s – Air, Brakes and Chain. This article can be found on my personal blog, Pedalations.com.
Don’t miss our video on proper chain lubrication.
Every six months is a good time frame to do an extra through inspection to the following areas.
I like to start with the tires. Are they still round in shape or are they beginning to square off? If they are beginning to square off that is an indicator that the rubber is wearing away and increasing your likelihood for punctures. Squared off tires won’t ride or handle as nice and they should be replaced. Next check the spokes to make sure they are tight and that they are not pulling out of the rim. Inspect the rim for damage such as cracks or a worn sidewall. Also look for flat spots in the rim. You can locate these by spinning the wheel and if it hops up and down there may be a flat spot. If you find a flat spot carefully inspect this area for cracks, damage to the spokes, this is a popular spot for loose spokes to show up. The next area to inspect is the sidewall of the tire to see if there is any damage. Often when you have a flat spot the brakes will rub on the sidewall of the tire creating an area where the sidewall can rupture. Address the problem areas as necessary.
Now that you have inspected the outer area of the wheel it is time to move to the center of it and the hubs. You’ll want to make sure that there is no play in the hubs. Next move onto the rest of the bearing surfaces, headset and bottom bracket. In most of today’s bicycles the bearings are sealed and require less maintenance but that doesn’t mean they require less attention.
Cables and housing are the next areas of focus. Inspect the cables for frayed ends. Are the cable caps all intact? Are there any broken strands on the cables? Look closely at the pinch bolts on the derailleurs and the brakes. The last thing you would want to see is the cable snap while you are riding. Next inspect the housing for damage. Kinks in the housing or cracks will restrict the movement of the cable internally. Keeping your cables and hosing in good working order is the key to precision shifting and properly working breaks. Replace damaged parts as necessary.
Maintaining good cables and housing is a critical component of precision shifting, maintaining your drivetrain is even more critical. As you ride over time the bushings in the chain become worn and lead to a condition called “chain stretch”. As the chain wears your shifting performance begins to suffer. Overtime your cassette will begin to wear and most often presents its self in your favorite gears. Don’t forget the chainrings they’ll wear out as well.
There are two schools of thought on drivetrain maintenance as it comes to chains. One is to replace your chain often. This will maintain the highest level of shifting performance for your bike and increase the life of your cassette. Proper lubrication is important to the life of the chain. Check out our video as Drew demonstrated how to lubricate a chain. The next school of thought is to replace the chain less frequently. This leads to a sacrifice of shifting performance and when you do decide to replace the chain in many cases you need to replace the cassette as well. Chains and cassettes will wear together. After they have worked in harmony for a long period of time the cassette will get mad if you replace the chain and not the cassette. This anger usually shows its self in a chain that skips under load and offers generally poor shifting performance. We have an article you can find here on chain replacement and repair.
During this inspection and cycle of maintenance is when a drivetrain cleaning should be performed on your bicycle. See our article on drivetrain cleaning here.
Finally don’t forget to inspect the brake pads for wear and debris. Most pads will have a wear indicator line that if you can’t see it is time to replace the pads. Cleaning the debris out of the grooves will increase braking performance. For disc brakes it is a good idea to remove the pads and inspect them.
Mountain Bike Maintenance
Maybe the most under looked area of bicycle maintenance is in mountain bike maintenance. So many people neglect the suspension systems and hydraulic systems on today’s modern bicycles. Just because you pay a lot for a bicycle doesn’t mean that it needs less maintenance. In many cases they need more maintenance and depending on how often and hard you ride your bike they may need a lot more.
With hydraulic mountain bike brakes you want to inspect your housing for damage and leaks. If you notice fluid on your lines make sure you find out where it is coming from as that is a clear sign of a clear problem area. Brake fluid gets contaminated by dirt from riding. The dirt works it’s way into the fluid from the caliper via the piston. A good guideline is you should bleed your brakes the number of times a year that you ride your bike off road on a weekly basis. If you ride off road two times a week you should bleed your brakes and replace the fluid two times a year.
For your front suspension fork you need to be changing your oil bath on an annual if not semi annual basis. For example Fox recommends for every 40 to 50 hours of riding you should change your shock oil out on the front forks. View our video as Nathan demonstrates how to change the shock oil on a Rock Shox here.
With suspension parts it is important that you inspect the seals and keep them clean of contaminants. Shock boots go a long way to protect your stanchions but you still need to make sure that the area stays clean. A stanchion cleaning kit is a great investment to protect your suspension systems on your bicycle.
Each manufacture has different guidelines for their systems and it is important you learn what those are and follow them.
The yearly inspection is very similar to the six month schedule. What is different with the yearly inspection is this is the time when we recommend completely pulling apart the systems you inspect at the six month and cleaning them and servicing them. Where the six month is more of an external inspection the yearly maintenance should include what you can’t see. It is during this time that you want to inspect the internal components for signs of wear, remove the old grease, clean and reassemble the system with new grease.
This is also a good time to replace all of your cables and housing, especially if you ride on a regular basis. This is a small investment that pays huge dividends. New housing is stiffer and offers enhanced braking and shifting performance as a result of this and that it is clean inside which reduces the friction in the system.
It is time now to check your pedals. Do they have play in them, is there any visible signs of damage. I recommend removing them from the crank and feeling the bearings, then applying new grease to the threads when you reinstall them. For mountain bike pedals cleaning them and making sure there is no debris in them is a smart idea.
Now that you have checked your pedals don’t forget the cleats if you ride a clipless system. Are the bolts still tight? Is anything broken or damaged on the cleats? Road cleats especially will wear from being walked on etc. Keeping your cleats in good shape will make them easier to release from your pedal system.
Regular bicycle maintenance is very important but don’t overlook the condition of your tools and shop supplies. You should inspect them annually to make sure that they are in good working order. Worn wrenches or screwdrivers can round out allen bolts or damage screw heads. This is also a good time to check your supplies to make sure you have everything you need when you start to work on your bike. How is your inventory of lube, cleaner, polish, clean rags? If you have suspension do you have what you need to maintain that?
Finally I like to review the contents of my saddle bag to make sure everything there is in good shape. Patch glue can dry up or be almost gone, do I have enough tire boots. Is everything there for my CO2 system? If you carry an information card in your bag is the information current and update. If you don’t take the time to create an information card with important contact information, any medical issues such as allergies etc. I also have insurance information and my primary care provider contact information on there. I have typed up the information and placed it on a luggage tag that I can slide into my jersey pocket or leave in my bag. I love my RoadID but this just gives the first responders a little more information.
So now you are well on your way to have a bike that remains in almost near perfect working order!